Currentseams Q&A: Greased line swings, lateral lines, and finding flies in dirty water

Happy Monday. We’re back and at it, and it feels good! This question comes from new subscriber Travis. It’s a good one, and since the answer is not simple, I thought I’d share it. Question: After listening to your Saltwater Edge podcast episode, you’ve motivated me to start trying out greased line swings and other similar presentations for stripers in my local estuary. This article brought up similar concerns I have about this tactic where I fish because the water is quite stained while still being mostly salt. How do the stripers’ lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? Does this method require the fly to be that close that it goes by their face like a trout, is there vision better than we give them credit for in murk or are their lateral lines more sensitive than always needing a strip retrieve? Still trying to get one on the swing.

Answer: I could write a lengthy chapter to answer. But rather than over-complicate, let’s simplify. The conditions are stained water with poor visibility. The first question is how do the striper’s lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? My reaction response is, danged if I know. My second response, while sounding facetious, is actually an attempt at serious: probably the way they always do. But I know where Travis is going with this. What’s he’s asking is, how do stripers find a fly in murky water? Do they see it? Do they rely on their lateral line? Does the fly need to be moving for them to find it?

Here’s what I can tell you. I fish a couple estuaries where the water, at best, is the color of tea, and perhaps most of the time is more like tea and milk. That is, lousy visibility. The bait is grass shrimp about an inch-and-a-half long. Every time I go, I hear the pops of bass feeding. So, I know they’re finding the naturals in stained water in the dark. Now, I don’t know if they’re finding the bait through vision or their lateral line or a combination of the two. But I do know that they can and will find my grass shrimp flies, which could hardly be described as patterns that — and I’ll use a phrase that generally drives me bonkers — “push water.” These flies are swung or dangling in the current. Sometimes the hits come when I ‘m pulling in over a hundred feet of line and backing. But mostly it’s on the swing and dangle.

Exhibit A: All of these flies are small. All of them have produced stripers, on static presentations, even in stained water. I fish them with confidence on the swing or dangle with a floating line because I know they work, and I know I am presenting the flies in a manner in which the naturals are being eaten.

I don’t know how the bass are finding my flies; I might even suggest that it doesn’t matter, because they are finding my flies, just as they find my skinny sand eel flies at night on the dark of the moon in the whitewater wash of a pounding surf. I fish bigger flatwings in the spring in a different estuary system where the water is frequently stained. Granted, those are much bigger patterns, but the presentation is still a natural drift, swing, or static dangle; regardless, the bass find those flies.

What Travis is really asking for, I believe, is permission to believe that the bass will find his flies in murky water. Permission granted. But ultimately, the permission has to come from you, Travis — and the only way to obtain it is to get out there and fish. Hope that helps!

Exhibit B: flatwing found in lightly stained water.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving, and getting back in the Currentseams groove

Thank you everyone for being so patient with me during a very busy time. My readers and followers — that’s you! — are something for which I am truly thankful.

I’m looking forward to getting back to giving you the kind of content you’re used to seeing here. And I’ve got a lot to write about: the International Fly Tying Symposium, my recent steelheading trip, some new materials I’m using for fly tying…just to name a few. Speaking of steelheading, it seems like every time I go, come what may, it only serves to fuel the addiction. I’ve been falling asleep visualizing strike indicators dipping below the surface. Really. Sweet dreams, indeed.

Neither Kansas nor Connecticut, but rather a little Salmon River sunshine of a wakeup call.

Let’s start here: Thank you, Ottawa Fly Fishers

Last night I did my second international Zoom presentation with the Ottawa Fly Fishers. They are a small but very enthusiastic group, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them. The subject was “Wet Flies 101.” I don’t need to tell you about my passion for tying and fishing wet flies, so spreading the word is kind of like getting extra frosting with your cake. Thank you again, Ottawa Fly Fishers, for being such swell hosts!

One afternoon, many years ago, this fly saved my bacon. I was guiding Matt, and it had been a slow, disappointing day. All of sudden, for no apparent reason, trout started eating the middle dropper, a size 16 Starling and Herl. Whatever was hatching unseen underwater, it was small and dark and the fish wanted it. Remember Ken’s sage advice: droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

Hot off the press: “Tying and Fishing Wet Flies — A Modern Take on the Ancient and Traditional Methods.” See it this Saturday at the IFTS!

In case you’ve been wondering where currentseams has been, I’ve been working on the presentation railroad, and getting ready for this weekend’s International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, NJ. Just finished: Tying and Fishing Wet Flies: A Modern Take On The Ancient And Traditional Methods. This is a brand new look at tying and fishing wet flies, with an emphasis on the tying aspect. You can be one of the first to see it at the International Fly Tying Symposium, this Saturday, Nov 12 at 10:30am. Still need more wet flies stuff? Join me for my tying class at 1pm, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets. Sunday, Nov 13 at 11am is another brand new presentation called Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies For Striped Bass. Both seminars are included in the price of admission to the Symposium (the class is extra). Holy smokes, I still gotta pack. See you there!

“Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies For Striped Bass” at the International Fly Tying Symposium Sunday Nov. 13

I’m putting the finishing touches on a brand new presentation called Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies For Striped Bass, and you can be one of the first to see it at the International Fly Tying Symposium, Sunday, Nov 13 at 11am. It’s one of two seminars I’ll be doing — the other is Tying and Fishing Wet Flies, also brand new. You can see that one on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 10:30. Both seminars are included in the price of admission to the Symposium. Beyond Cast & Strip is all about tying flies that create the illusion of life, even when at rest — flatwings, bucktails, soft hackles — all proven patterns that I use every season. I’ll also be sharing some insights on how and where to fish presentation flies. I’m excited about this one, folks. See you there!

The International Fly Tying Symposium is happening this November 12-13 in Somerset, NJ. When I’m not doing my seminars, I’ll be at my tying table, or teaching a class, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged, and Wingless Wets.

The burning question of the day is: If using a floating line in chop/surf is causing me to lose contact with my fly…

…then how am I catching all those stripers?

The answer should be self-evident.

I wanted to briefly make another point about using floating lines for stripers. If I could change minds on one aspect of using a floating line for stripers from the shore, it might be the notion that one must have weight (fast sink tips, etc.) incorporated into the system — and/or that you’ve somehow got to get the fly down into some imaginary strike zone. Certainly, there are times when stripers are grubbing. But bass are usually looking straight ahead or up. I rarely use sink tips or weighted flies with the floater. That 20-pounder from last month came on a totally floating line setup, and the take came where a wadeable reef drops off into substantially deeper (overhead) water. Not surprisingly, the bass found my fly near the surface.

An oldie but goody from Block Island. I’m standing in thigh-deep water, but I was casting into water that was probably over my head. The bass are usually looking up. Using a Rio Outbound 9-weight floating line with a 7 1/2 foot leader.

Thank you, Squan-a-Tissit Chapter TU and question of the day

A shout out to the Squan-a-Tissit Chapter of TU (northern MA) for virtually hosting me last night. We Zoomed and boomed and I presented The West Branch Farmington River: Southern New England’s Blue-Ribbon Trout Stream. A reminder to all the long and longer-distance fly fishing clubs out there: Zoom is great way to get acquainted. If you”re in charge of booking speakers, here’s a link to my current presentation menu.

The question of the day is certainly a fun one. I don’t think I’ve ever had this one before last night. You may find it tongue-in-cheek, but I took it seriously, and there’s a little bonus wisdom in the answer. Q: What’s your favorite fishing cigar and do you find that certain brands help you catch more fish? A: Without getting into specific brands, I like fuller bodied cigars that have a lot of taste complexity. I’m an espresso/dark chocolate/spicy/earthy flavor profile kind of guy. Now, this next bit is true. If I’m having a tough go when I’m fishing wets or streamers (or striper fishing), sometimes I’ll tuck the rod under my arm, leave the fly dangling in the water, and get out a cigar. Several times a year, I hook up when I’m lighting the cigar, doing nothing else. That’s clue #1. Clue #2 is that sometimes when you’re dealing with a riser that won’t bite, rest the fish. Take out a cigar, cut and light it — or, if you don’t partake, take couple minutes to organize your box — and then make a cast and see what happens.

It takes a rare talent to enjoy a cigar while you’re doing battle with a steelhead. OK, not really, but I do enjoy the connection between partaking and hooking up. Sometimes it seems that the cigar is the wild card that gets the bite going. I can’t explain it, but it happens an awful lot.

Farmington River Report 10/20/22: My favorite fall color is…wild brown

I guided Jon yesterday from late morning to mid-afternoon. We had abundant sunshine, the air was crisp and chilly, and we had a bit of a breeze to contend with. But by far the most challenging part was the sheer volume of leaves in the water. It was never-ending. Still, the trout have to eat. The trick is to keep at it, and I like to use flies that offer some contrast to all the yellow and orange and red in the water. We fished four marks in the lower river, which was running about 225cfs, a very respectable height, and far better than the double-digit CFSs we’ve had to suffer though in the Permanent TMA.

So: Jon is a beginning fly angler. We spent the session drop-shot nymphing under an indicator. Jon did a great job sticking with it despite all the infernal flora. And what do you know? The indicator dipped, the hook was set, the battle won, and…Jon’s first Farmington River trout was wild brown! Way to go, Jon!

Sparse spotting, lovely halos, perfect rays on the fins, no edge damage to the fins, intact adipose — and a stubborn unwillingness to come to net — all hallmarks of a stream-born wild brown. It was especially gratifying to find this fish in an area of the river that got torched this summer. Nature finds a way (again). A tremendous first Farmington River trout for Jon.

“Surfcasting Around The Block II” is here!

Surfcasting Around The Block II — Forty Years of Striped Bass Surfcasting Stories, Articles and Legends from the Islands of Block and Aquidneck is on the shelves! Dennis Zambrotta’s much-anticipated follow-up to his out-of-print classic Surfcasting Around The Block is actually a group effort with multiple contributing authors — many of them Block Island surfcasting legends. Although the focus is on fishing the island with spinning gear, the astute fly caster will be able to glean a treasure trove of information on fishing the island.

Sitting in my favorite reading chair, looking for intel from Campo, McKenna, Abate, Winters, and that Zambrotta guy…

And yes, there are two chapters devoted to fly fishing Block Island authored by yours truly. The first part is a story about a particularly memorable Block Island All-Nighter. The second covers gearing up for fly fishing on Block Island. Where can you get Surfcasting Around The Block II (ISBN979-8-218-07120-2)? The Saltwater Edge. The Island Bound Bookstore. And The Surfcaster. Happy reading!

What a football of a Block Island bass! This is a really good story. I think you’re going to like it.

“Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line” in issue #75 of Surfcaster’s Journal — plus a short striper report

I’m delighted to have piece in the diamond issue of Surfcaster’s Journal. Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line is exactly what it sounds like: my thoughts on fishing this important bait using traditional patterns and salmonid tactics — and catching more striped bass. Most anglers I see targeting stripers feeding on sand eels use intermediate lines and weighted flies. They’re missing out, and typically only catching the stripers that are willing to chase. Some of the answers to the mysteries of “How come I can’t catch those bass?” when they’re feeding on sand eels are unveiled within.

Surfcaster’s Journal is an online e-zine. If you’re not reading it, you should be. Although the focus is primarily on using spinning gear, there is some in-depth fly casting content (like this piece) — and there is plenty of invaluable information that may be gleaned from the traditional surfcasting articles. It’s only 20 bucks for a year. You can subscribe here.

I remember this night like it was just a few months ago: Block Island, July, and a school of 15-20 pound bass were in close harassing sand eels for several hours. The stripers were very willing to jump on. But what about those frustrating nights when you can’t buy a hit? Read Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line and become a closer.

Mini-striper report 10/16/22: I fished for several hours last night with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. He was plugging and I was on the 2H fly rod. Conditions appeared to be perfect, but the neither the bass not the bait got the memo. Toby managed two school bass and yours truly took the skunk. Toby had a trenchant analysis of the evening, which, as you have not yet heard it, I will now precede to relate: “Bleaaahhhh.” That’s a direct quote.